Royal United Services Institute (RUSI)
This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
Speech by General Sir David Richards, Chief of the Defence Staff.
Thank you Lord Hutton for your kind introduction. It is good to see so many friends and colleagues here and may I take the opportunity to thank you all for your strong support to the armed forces. It is hugely appreciated.
I am feeling slightly cautious this evening. Our senior Defence Attaché in the Americas tells me that in the Aztec calendar today is the day of the Lizard. They say:
The warrior must be like the lizard, who is not hurt by a high fall but, instead, immediately climbs back to its perch. These are good days to keep out of sight; bad days to attract attention.
So perhaps today isn’t the best time to be standing before you!
In honouring my commitment to this august organisation that plays such an important role in the life of UK defence, I want to take the opportunity to examine where we are today, what deductions we should draw, and what we are doing to ensure we are prepared for tomorrow.
You are all aware of how much change there has been over the past two years. We have begun to introduce the SDSR, balanced the books and turned a corner in Afghanistan. Yet much of the world seems less stable and more dangerous than was the case even two years ago; a harsh world in which intra-state conflict can be confused by and for new forms of inter-state conflict.
A world in which governance vacuums present opportunities for extremist groups to perpetrate large-scale violence and disruption, especially as precision strike capabilities, cyber instruments and bio terror weaponry become inevitably more accessible.
And this in a period when economic fragility makes us both more vulnerable and less able to respond in a confident and timely manner, a reality aggravated by the huge cost differentials between western forces and non-state opponents.
All this is demanding much from all of us and is changing the shape and capabilities of the armed forces.
Together with my fellow chiefs I have been examining, as you would expect, how we should best use what we have and what we need for the future. We have to be hard-nosed realists; accepting we have less than we would wish but that we are still required to protect this nation’s interests through the projection of military force.
We cannot shrug our shoulders and hope the problem will go away. We have to be ready to fight and fight effectively, often not on our own terms and accepting the constraints we are under. I have brought this together in a piece of work I will be sharing in the future called How We Will Fight. And I will look at some of its key deductions in a moment.
We should be under no illusions; the armed forces of tomorrow, like those of today, will be engaged in operations around the world. They will require the best of their generation as they always have. People who can think flexibly and with imagination.
As Einstein said,
imagination is more important than knowledge.
These operations will not be carbon copies of Afghanistan or Libya. But they will require the same skill and dedication that these operations, and all the others we have engaged in since the Cold War, have demanded. They will require the strength and indeed guile that our army, navy and air force are famous for.
Building on the battle-winning reputation, proven resilience and technological edge of the past decade, I hope you won’t notice some of the tasks the armed forces will be doing. They will be performing a key part of our developing military strategy, deterrence. Preventing conflict, you may recall, is rightly a principal task of defence.
I will come back to this theme later but it is worth remembering that your armed forces are often most effective when they are not in the headlines. Few operations, exercises or training missions are widely reported but each one communicates that we are strong, credible and reliable. This deters our enemies and reassures our friends.
And we should be proud of our nation’s record in this respect. The relative peace we have enjoyed here in the UK for the past 70 years is not an accident. It is in large part the result of the quiet work of diplomats building friendships, the skill of our financiers and businessmen in making our economy strong, and the courage of our armed forces in deterring and when necessary overcoming threats.
Afghanistan is an example of this lesson. With our partners in NATO/ISAF and the ANSF we have been more successful than many, regrettably, recognise.
I have recently returned from a visit there and, I can tell you, we are meeting the tasks laid on us.
Over the past decade we have:
a. closed Al Qaeda’s bolthole
b. helped underpin a more stable government
d. trained an army and police force
e. and put a country that suffered 30 years of war into a position where industry, education and the rule of law are beginning to grow
True, there is a long way to go. The presidential elections in 2014 will be hugely important. But we are heading in the right direction and we have proved what can be done with the right resources and with the right support.
I look forward to 2013 seeing us increasingly transition to an Afghan lead as we move from mentoring battalions to supporting brigades.
The Afghan Army now enjoys the support and trust of 84% of the country, only 3% less than the British Army in this country. That is a fantastic achievement, by them and ISAF. It recognises the integral part they are playing in turning the destiny of a country away from violence and onto a path of peace.
I am proud of what our service men and women have achieved in Afghanistan. Alongside partners in DFID and the Foreign Office we have given Afghans a chance they couldn’t have dreamt of only a few years ago.
Our operation in Afghanistan does not stand alone. It is linked to Pakistan and India and the wider region. In my recent trip to Islamabad, a city I have got to know well, I was very encouraged by the helpful attitude of civilian and military leaders to reconciling the Taliban. The Taliban, like us, are focussed on Afghanistan’s presidential poll and the end of our combat operations in 2014. They know that the window of opportunity to play a role in their country’s future is closing.
Every day the Afghan Army and police grow in capability and legitimacy. Every day the government is better able to serve its people and thus better able to marginalise the Taliban. Now, surely, the time is ripe to take risk in order to find that elusive political solution 10 years of military effort and sacrifice has sought to create the conditions for?
But in order to pull this off, it is vital that Afghan confidence in the West’s long term commitment to their country is retained. Why, should this be lost, would they stay the course themselves let alone fight to protect us in 2014 when, absent successful reconciliation, we will be at our most vulnerable? And why should the Taliban reconcile, if they thought we were ‘cutting and running’? Retaining Afghan confidence is the campaign’s centre of gravity. And for the UK, retaining our influence and status within NATO and amongst key allies, is another reason for getting this right.
While achieving our goals in Afghanistan, British armed forces have been active elsewhere around the world.
In Libya we fought in support of a people who wanted to be free from tyranny. We joined allies from around the world built around a NATO core. Together, we supplied the air force and the navy. The people themselves were the army. They made the change happen.
In the seas off Somalia we are playing our part in an operation that is controlling the spread of piracy. Alongside navies from around the world, including Pakistan, India and China, reinforcing the benefit of cooperation.
Closer to home we have also been proud to play our part in HM the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations. And my fellow chiefs and I were delighted to receive so many letters of support for the actions of our regular and reserve service men and women during the Olympics.
It reminded all of us in uniform of the level of support that we enjoy amongst the people of this country. We are very grateful.
All this has happened as we have been going through reforms.
Over the past 2 years we have implemented some of the most radical changes to the Ministry of Defence and to the armed forces in decades.
The SDSR shrank the size of the armed forces and changed the governance of the department. And whilst we are aware that the Autumn Statement has further implications, a balanced budget means we can start from a firm base and better demonstrate what is at stake.
The new Armed Forces Committee mandates the chiefs to resolve problems in the interests of defence as a whole. It exploits collective military judgment and balances single service requirements in private allowing the CDS to go to the Defence Board with the underpinning authority of a combined Joint service view.
The AFC, the Defence Strategy Group chaired jointly by John Thomson the PUS and me, and the new style Defence Board chaired by Philip Hammond enable the MOD to be more agile and decisive in responding at the strategic level to developing threats and trends. The world is not a safe place. Some threats to our interests and allies are long term but some are very present.
The immediate danger of the collapse of the Syrian regime is one. We will support our allies in the region and would all like to see a diplomatic solution but cannot afford to remove options from the table at this stage. Should chemical weapons be used or proliferate, both President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron have made it clear that a line would have been crossed.
And Syria is linked to Iran. The regime is backed by Tehran so the fall of Assad’s dictatorship will impact the Iranian government. What that means for the stability of the region is as yet unclear.
In my recent trip to the Manama Dialogue I was struck by the issues that came up. Our host, Crown Prince Salman of Bahrain, emphasised the threat of nuclear proliferation. North Korea’s missile test last week aggravates this risk.
The Kenyan and Ugandan armed forces have been exemplary in bringing order to Somalia but this has not been without cost. Both have sustained losses, and the retaliation of terrorist groups has endangered Kampala, Nairobi and the Kenyan coast. We must continue to support both countries, as well as the fledgling Somali government.
To the west, Mali is a major cause for concern. As still is Yemen, despite President Hadi’s laudable efforts. So what?
Now reducing these short and long term threats, our task is to evolve a force capable of meeting, with allies, various complex tasks. By the early 2020s, these plans result in a powerful Joint force that, on the basis of a balanced budget from Planning Round 12, should be able to meet the requirements laid on it.
It has not been easy.
But the Secretary of State, building on the work of the SDSR, has ensured that the department is able to squeeze the most from the resources available.
By 2020 we will have kit that many of my fellow NATO chiefs of defence, saddled with much more sclerotic budgets than we, are envious of:
a. a world class carrier capability with the JSF, Lightning II, on board
b. Type 45 destroyers on patrol
c. Type 26 frigates in production
d. Astute class submarines
e. Chinook Mk 6 bringing the total Chinook fleet to 60
f. Typhoon Tranche 3, as well as the Lightning II
g. Atlas and Voyager air transport and air to air refuelling aircraft, underpinned by our now larger C17 fleet
h. Scout vehicles, upgraded Warrior, Challenger, and Apache to give the army better reconnaissance, mobility and firepower i. Rivet Joint and other critical ISTAR platforms that will ensure we have better situational awareness than ever
j. and much more emphasis on cyber, to which I will return shortly
But our most decisive asset will remain our service men and women.
As the private sector puts it, we must look after the ‘talent’. As I see equipment around the world parked with no-one to operate it. Great equipment without talented people counts for little.
We must ensure our people have the intelligence and confidence to treat the unexpected as an opportunity to exploit. They must be capable of informed, independent action; of what has been described as a ‘brains based approach’ to operations.
You have all heard the common refrain that we must do more with less. Well, to be frank, that is what we are doing. At the strategic level, a brains based approach means deciding to act only when we must and then doing it well, not always kinetically.
This type of thinking has shaped the work I have started on ‘How We Will Fight’. Assuming the approach I have just outlined, I and my fellow chiefs have designed our forces to:
a. act jointly and with allies, but able to act alone
b. be well equipped, but not tied to platforms
c. adapt as the environment changes
But we must prioritise. And as spending has tightened, we must be ruthless in our requirements and getting the most from them. Effectively targeting limited resources is, in large part, the art of military command in war and in peace through force design.
The new UK Joint Expeditionary Force is an expression of this. The JEF promises much greater levels of integration than previously achieved especially when combined with others, as is already happening with our French allies in the Anglo/French Combined JEF. The JEF must be genuinely synergistic. It is the building block to future alliances and independent action. And we would hope that allies such as Denmark and Estonia, who have fought with distinction in a British formation in Afghanistan, will want to play key roles within the British element of the CJEF.
What it offers is clear: an integrated joint force with capabilities across the spectrum at sea, on land and in the air. A force that can confidently be allocated a specific slice of the battle space in an allied operation or act alone. It will be the basis of all our combined joint training.
With the capability to ‘punch’ hard and not be a logistical or tactical drag on a coalition, we will be especially welcomed by our friends and feared by our enemies.
The JEF will be of variable size; a framework into which others fit. It will be the core of the UK’s contribution to any military action, whether NATO, coalition or independent.
Together with critical C2 elements such as HQ ARRC and the emphasis placed on the maritime component HQ at Northwood, the JEF is designed to meet our NATO obligations.
In the Libyan campaign, Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates were able to play a vital role by bringing their regional expertise into the command structure of a NATO operation. This provided greater military and political reach. I look forward to the alliance, perhaps in part through the vehicle of the JEF, working more with non-member states.
Britain’s JEF will be capable of projecting power with global effect and influence. Nowhere is more important to us than our friends in the Middle East and Gulf and in line with clear political intent we would expect, with other initiatives, for JEF elements to spend more time reassuring and deterring in that region.
The Royal Navy
Let me briefly examine how the ‘How we fight’ work affects the single services, starting with the Royal Navy. As the Prime Minister has put it, the Navy “keeps the arteries of trade of the global economy from hardening.”
The Royal Navy will continue to grow in importance. As our carrier capability comes into service it will be a key part of our diplomatic, humanitarian and military strategy. Prepared to overcome the toughest military challenges. This is its raison d’être. But I know it will be used for much more.
The Americans demonstrated through their deployment to Aceh and Haiti that aircraft carriers have huge strategic impact supporting people around the world. Seeing US military personnel, ships and helicopters playing such a critical role boosted the standing of the US in the world’s most populous Islamic country and undermined extremist rhetoric.
Hard power is an essential element of soft power. In this respect especially, numbers, or mass, still matter. We must resolve the conundrum at the heart of Bob Gates quip about ‘exquisite technology’.
In the future, the Chief of the Naval Staff and I have a vision for a Navy which procures ships differently allowing us to have more, not fewer platforms.
We must resist the pressure that has shrunk the number of platforms. Clearly that will mean rethinking the Navy, including examining the case for ships that may have a limited role in general war. But this is not new, remember the corvette over the ages, and is similar to the utility of light and heavy land forces, tailored to task. And in so doing we will ensure seamanship skills and leadership qualities, so much in demand by our friends and allies, flourish into the long term.
The Royal Navy’s maritime and amphibious components, with 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines at the core of the latter, will be at the heart of Britain’s JEF. As the concept develops we will look to acquire ships that range from top-end war fighting elements through potentially to more vessels tailored to discrete but important tasks, to be deployed on a range of routine non-warfighting duties.
The British Army
The army too is changing. Once we come out of the combat role in Afghanistan at the end of 2014, it will cease to be on permanent rotation with the burdens that imposes.
The army will maintain a hard power war-fighting capability while creating the strategic influence, support and engagement ability essential to modern operations.
Like the Navy, these land forces must be equipped to pack a punch but war fighting is not all they’re for.
Conflict prevention, to which I will return in a moment, is not just sensible strategy; it is a military operation requiring appropriately configured and equipped forces.
The army 2020 reforms are a fundamental re-set for the army, making the best of a regular force a fifth smaller than when I commanded it only three years ago.
While we will retain three high-readiness manoeuvre brigades, we will also have ‘adaptable brigades’ to sustain enduring operations and routinely develop partnerships and knowledge around the world.
Though more conceptual work is needed, given the importance of the region and clear Prime Ministerial intent, I envisage two or more adaptable brigades forming close tactical level relationships with particular countries in the Gulf and Jordan, for example, allowing for better cooperation with their forces. Should the need arise for another Libya-style operation, we will be prepared. This would greatly enhance our ability to support allies as they contain and deter threats and, with our naval presence in Bahrain, air elements in the UAE and Qatar, and traditional but potentially enhanced roles in Oman, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, would make us a regional ally across the spectrum.
In Africa, brigades would be tasked to support key allies in the east, west and south whilst another might be given an Indian Ocean and SE Asian focus, allowing for much greater involvement in the FPDA, for example.
If we are to influence, we must know what drives our friends and how to motivate them. This is not something that can be done on the eve of an operation. As these adaptable brigades develop links with countries around their region, this will create opportunities for soldiers and officers to progress their careers through linguistic and cultural specialism.
The Defence Engagement Strategy, prepared with the Foreign Office, will provide what I have often referred to as a ‘strategic handrail’ for engagement.
This will require tough decisions. If we are to invest properly in some relationships, others will naturally get less attention.
But if we get this right, and we will, we will have deeper links to specific regional partners giving them the confidence to deal with their own problems and, when appropriate, to act in partnership with us.
What I have described puts military flesh on the bones of welcome, NSC endorsed, national strategy.
This all comes as we are increasing the Reserves and integrating them closer with the Regular forces. This will do more to increase our own capacity and ability to help friends and allies.
The Royal Air Force
Turning now to the Royal Air Force. The rate of technological advance is most keenly felt on air platforms. This is understandable. These are complex fully networked combat and ISTAR platforms. This intelligence cuts the time between understanding and reacting. It allows us better to out-think and out-act our opponents.
At the same time, lift, both tactical and global, reduces the number of reserves we need to keep, giving the armed forces a flexibility that was unimaginable just a few decades ago.
Understanding and exploiting the opportunities technology presents will be decisive in maintaining our advantage, in sufficient numbers, into the future.
Remotely piloted air systems and novel anti-air defences have changed our understanding of both what it means to fight and defend. We must not allow sacred cows, such as the indispensability of onboard pilots, to rule the day. The Chief of the Air Staff is leading the change. By giving ‘wings’ to UAV pilots the Royal Air Force is recognising the capability of the platform and skill of the pilot.
Indeed, it is a reflection of how early we are in this process of transition that we still refer to remotely-piloted air systems or unmanned aerial vehicles. How long was it before we stopped referring to the horseless carriage?
For all 3 services, their role within an integrated CJEF will be the driving force in their force development and training. Whoever the enemy, wherever the threat, we will need partners. Building them now is an investment in our own future and our capacity to succeed quickly should war break out.
But there is a new environment within which we must learn to manoeuvre with confidence.
Today Facebook, with around a billion users, is the third most populous country in the world. It exemplifies one of the most extreme changes we have seen in the past decades.
Cyberspace is the nervous system of our global economy. We are reliant on the internet and other networked systems for every aspect of our lives. It allows bewildering speed of action and global reach.
Unsurprisingly, just as crime has become e-crime, spying has increasingly become cyber espionage. We have seen nations, their proxies and non-state actors use this new space for terrorism and conflict.
Though not conventional assaults, the hostile cyber attacks on Estonia in 2007, Georgia in 2008 and Burma in 2010 were damaging.
In the Middle East, there have been unprecedented levels of cyber attack over the past 24 months. Israel has reported over 44 million attempts to disrupt its government websites during recent tension around the Gaza strip. STUXNET demonstrated a new class of threat aimed at process control systems at the heart of modern infrastructure.
Without doubt, actions in cyberspace will form part of any future conflict. Communication and the control of infrastructure and systems has become a new environment through which combatants will further their objectives.
Our immediate priority must be to ensure our networks are secure and defensible, working with partners in industry and around the country to drive up standards and ensure we have robust protocols in place. This builds on the excellent work done under the National Cyber Security Strategy but Defence has particular challenges as a department, as armed forces and through the contractors and partners with whom we work.
I am determined that the armed forces should understand cyberspace, and how it will shape future conflict, as instinctively as we understand maritime, land and air operations.
This will mean changes in the way we operate: new doctrine; new capabilities; new structures, with Joint Forces Command at their heart.
It will mean a new approach to growing and developing the talent we need to operate in this new, electronic, environment. Like our Secretary of State, I see an important role for reserves in this domain.
In examining each environment separately I hope I have highlighted some of the key issues on the chiefs’ plate and how we must respond to them. But the most important is developing an integrated Joint model.
The JEF is neither the 1980s Canadian model nor, whilst there are some apparent similarities, is it a British version of the US Marine Corps.
The effectiveness of the UK armed forces relies heavily on the different skill-sets and ethos of each single Service. Each adapted for its environment, and evolving as times and technology change.
But a joint conceptual approach, based on lessons from the real world, embedded through force development, in training, on operations and though the cohering glue of modern C3I and cyber is vital to delivering the military capability the nation requires.
This is about ensuring single Service skills meld into joint action so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
The JEF won’t mean we can do more with less; it will mean, through the synergy it provides, that we get the most from what we have. And doubtless there will be some roles that we continue to leave to others, notably the USA.
As I close let me draw some lessons from my 41 years in uniform.
Some constants which may seem obvious in this room but are often over looked:
a. the need for military force to influence, secure and protect is as great as ever
b. I joined an army that was geared to defend Britain by fighting in Germany
c. today life is more complex but the principle is the same
d. 9/11, and the 7/7 bombings in London show that we cannot choose our battlefields as we once did
e. the world is not a safer place and the distinction between home and abroad is strategically obsolete.
Today it is part of a continuum.
We cannot just stand by and hope we are ignored and danger passes us by.
As the Foreign Secretary said in September last year: “the country that is purely reactive in foreign affairs is in decline”.
Responses may be based on either soft or hard power, but to divorce the two is strategic blindness. Soft power is not a substitute for strength. On the contrary, it is often based on the credible threat of force, either to support a friend or deter an enemy. Hard power and soft power are intertwined.
It is not enough to provide aid or speak kindly. Our friends want to know we are there when it counts, not just fair-weather friends. This is the confidence hard power brings. It drives equipment sales and thus industrial growth, as well as diplomatic treaties, just as it has for centuries. But hard power also does more than this: it dissuades.
Deterrence doctrine has fallen out of fashion so perhaps you will allow me to recall some of the elements. Sun Tzu’s famous maxim is: “Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting”.
Too often this is seen as clever posturing on the eve of battle. It is not. Training, equipping and partnering with allies enhance the aura of British power. They give us presence on the world stage and ensure that we are not tested.
It is worth being clear: when the armed forces train we do not just do it to be ready, we do it to be seen to be ready. When we succeed on operations, we do not just win a battle. We prove that we can win a war.
In a very real sense, everything the armed forces do deters and reassures. With enough numbers, enough equipment and with good leaders at every level, Britain is a credible threat to our enemies and a reassuring friend to our allies.
This is cheaper than fighting and more credible than talk.
Reading the record of how the Soviets saw the Falklands War demonstrates this admirably. What many saw as post-colonial folie de grandeur, the Soviet leadership, rightly, saw as proof that the British armed forces were united with their government and people, Clausewitz’s famous trilogy, and more than a match for them.
It was far from the only factor, but the increase in Soviet defence spending in the 1980s which ended up contributing to the collapse of the Warsaw Pact was partly due to clarity of their failure to impose their will in neighbouring, occupied countries while Britain could liberate territory some 8,000 miles away.
As Chief of the Defence Staff I do not wear the burdens of office any more lightly than my predecessors. I have set out some of my concerns for the coming years and some of the ways we will think and act to meet them.
Under the Prime Minister’s chairmanship, The National Security Council, on which I am privileged to sit, considers all the big strategic issues that I have listed and more. It is a hugely welcome addition to Whitehall, directing and bringing clarity to national strategy and coordinating cross-government action.
But the nature of the world is such that what will later seem obvious, today is opaque and unpredictable. How will Europe emerge from the Euro crisis? How will the Arab Spring conclude? How will global warming affect water supplies? And what of cyber?
After all, grand strategy, while providing a guide to action in peacetime, is also about being prepared and balanced for what we can never know.
Ensuring we have enough left in the bag while actively deterring, and when required defeating, aggression against us and our friends, enough left to succeed against those ‘unknown unknowns’, is ultimately what I and my fellow chiefs are paid for.